Only a few voices on the African continent, in our contemporary metropolis epoch, can capture one’s soul and transform it to a nostalgic ancestral homeland.
French poet, novelist, and dramatist of the Romantic movement, Victor Hugo, once captured the sentiment perfectly when he said: “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.”
Musician, Bongeziwe Mabandla, illustrates Hugo’s words meticulously with his new album, titled Mangaliso. The two-time SAMA nominee’s music leaves one longing for a home filled with love, laughter, and festivities that bring families together.
Mabandla’s sound is a mixture of an eclectic blend of African traditional and urban folk music. His deep voice fuses these genres into a nostalgic sound one cannot simply ignore.
When speaking about the new album, Mabandla explains what he envisioned for the project, “I wanted to do something that was moving,” he says, “moving in a godly, spiritual way, to lift your soul. Music is about that, the soul.”
African spirituality is an important part of his life. In his latest body of work, he makes references to his spiritual journey.
“African music has always just been very spiritual. Especially with us South Africans, our associations most of the time comes from a very special place,” he explains.
Capturing his journey of self-knowledge and awareness was one of the pivotal epochs in this young artist’s life and has contributed to Mangaliso. “In every person, there is who you are and who you want to be, who you really are and who you really want to be.”
He further adds that at the time of writing the album, he was facing a lot of challenges in his personal life.
“There was a lot of things that were happening as I was trying to change. You cannot try to go through a spiritual journey without your human nature causing you to derail you from where you are going,” he says.
Mangaliso takes the listener into Mabandla’s personal space and thoughts. The musician adds that he had to take close to two years to conceptualise his latest album.
“I took a risk on this album. I wanted to write about a subject that was coming from a very personal space.”
Mabandla’s work is inspired by the many questions that troubled him at this period of his life.
“I could do so much more with my life if I had the opportunity to find ways and means to change and become something. Especially thinking about my past, to think differently, to think positively and see the light, it is not so clear for everybody else,” says the musician.
Unlike his previous album, Umlilo, Mabandla says Magaliso is more mature. Umlilo was inspired by legendary musicians like Thandiswa Mazwai and Busi Mhlongo.
“I just wanted to be part of these people making music; people that were expressing themselves in an Afrocentric way, a very traditional way, very Xhosa. I was inspired.”
“I think a lot about the wording and the way I play with words. The way I tell stories is influenced by where I come from,” says Mabandla.
It was when he wrote Wena, a song he describes as a prayer that changed his perspective on the whole album and his outlook on music.
“I thought, this feels so real for me and this is the kind of message I want to bring for my whole album,” he says.
Bongeziwe says the narrative of the album was also drawn from the biblical story of the prodigal son, who left his father’s house to experience life in the far away cities. He relates this parable to his own life, after having left his hometown in Tsolo, Eastern Cape to seek riches of the city of Johannesburg.
“That was me in a way, leaving my home but also leaving a sense of my innocence, becoming an adult, making decisions,” he says “and that is what this album was really about, finding my innocence again.”
He further says what makes this album great is that it was penned down at a time when he had to introspect his life.
“There was a time I felt, the decisions I was making, where I was in my life, I was in a dark place and knew if something happened I would have regrets for the rest of my life. I was trying to stop myself.
“With this album, I wanted to become more human again, more in the moment, more kind and more free,” says Mabandla.
Armed with his guitar, voice, songwriting, and talent, we hope to hear more from Bongeziwe.
Writer: Neo Motloung
Photography: Dokta Moyo